Bill that bans bullying of gay students stalls in Kentucky House

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WHAS11.com

Posted on March 2, 2011 at 1:09 AM

(WHAS11) - One week after a Kentucky House committee overwhelmingly approved a measure that bans the bullying of gay students, the bill has stalled in the Kentucky House.

Opponents say religious freedom and free speech are also at stake.

House Bill 370 would prohibit bullying because of a student's sexual orientation, race or religion. Yet, Rep. Mike Harmon (R-Danville, who believes homosexuality is a sin, says students who share his faith-based belief should not be prohibited from saying as much.

The Fairness Campaign of Louisville says current anti-bullying laws that apply to everyone aren't enough, "if you're being bullied on the basis of your race, your class, your gender, your sex, your sexual orientation, your gender identity, your religion," explained Chris Hartman of the Fairness Campaign.

And, Hartman adds, it's not just students who need to get the message.

"Especially in the case of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students," Hartman continued, "they are being bullied in very subtle ways and administrators are often either not acknowledging or ignoring completely."

Danville Republican Mike Harmon says rules against bullying are already in place.  Kentucky public schools are required to implement anti-bullying programs and report potential bullying felonies to law enforcement. 

Harmon has filed an amendment that would allow students to condemn other students' sexual preferences as long as that expression of a religious belief does not include physical harm or damaging property.

"If someone, just in conversation, said, 'You know, I think homosexuality is a sin,' well we don't want that child to be bullied because they have a certain moral or religious belief," said Harmon, "And we don't want them, certainly don't want them to be labeled a bully just because they have that particular belief."

"What this bill is about is making a school a safe place to go," said its sponsor, Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville), "a learning center and a place that our kids can feel safe."

Marzian says she has no problem with a different amendment that reasserts basic freedom of speech rights, but contends that Harmon's amendment may actually encourage gay bullying. 

"It's a very cynical amendment," Marzian said, "I would ask Mike Harmon, 'What would Jesus do?'  Would He bully people based on religion?  I don't think so."

Harmon threw that question back in Marzian's face, questioning her vote against ultrasounds in abortion counseling, and citing the Biblical story in which Jesus admonishes those without sin to cast the first stone against a woman accused of adultery.  Harmon said the story does not end with no stones being thrown.

"'Neither do I condemn you,'" Harmon quotes scripture, "But it didn't stop there.  (Jesus) went on to say, 'Go and sin no more.'  So, Jesus would not bully the young lady but he also would not condone her sin."

Harmon has also filed an amendment to the bill that would allow gunowners with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms on public campuses and keep guns in their vehicles on school property.

Marzian contends the amendment is not germane and can be removed through parliamentary procedures, yet Harmon said because the bill deals with school safety, the weapons amendment is appropriate.  He cited the Virginia Tech massacre as an example of a tragedy that might have been mitigated if gun owners had been allowed to carry firearms on campus and in a better position to stop the shooter.

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